Category Archives: productivity

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Negative productivity and learning from oopses

So I accidentally blew away my self-hosted photo gallery because I overwrote the directories by copying them instead of using rsync. I attribute that to being slightly out-of-sorts, but the truth is that I might’ve made that mistake anyway bright and early on a well-rested weekend.

As it turns out, I back up my WordPress blog, but not my Gallery2-hosted photo album. And I hadn’t enabled server-wide backups before. You can bet I turned that on after I realized that.

It’s no big deal. The key thing I wish I hadn’t deleted was the sketch I’d made of the highlights of 2008, but that’s in my paper backup of my blog, and the rest of my sketches are probably somewhere in my files too. It’s just stuff.

The trick to dealing with negative productivity is to catch yourself – ideally, shortly before you mess up, but shortly afterwards is fine too. Do not make things worse in the process of trying to fix things.

It’s better to detect your periods of negative productivity on non-critical operations than to, say, accidentally corrupt the source code repository for the project you’ve been working on. In addition to remembering this general feeling of out-of-it-ness, it might be a good idea for me to come up with some small test for full attention/alertness before doing anything possibly irreversible. Then I would need to make it a habit, because it’s precisely when one’s tempted to cut corners and go ahead that one shouldn’t.

Hmm, checking for patterns…

Sleep 8.8 hours per night – normal (if not a little over)
Work 10.2 hours per workday so far – well above normal, and pretty high-intensity work, too
Work pattern current, 45.9, 56.9, 40.1 – current week is third of more intense period

Anyway. Dealing with oopses. Instead of beating myself up about it, I’d rather fix what I can fix, learn what I can learn, and then get on with a restful evening so that I can prepare for more awesomeness. Why beat myself up over a mistake? Better to figure out how to minimize the chances of making a similar mistake in the future, and to get on with life. =)

(Well, after wringing a blog post out of it first…)

2011-04-13 Wed 20:36

Thinking about personal random moment studies

John Handy Bosma (Boz) proposed a personal productivity random moment study. His goals are:

  • Find out how he’s spending his time in terms of the proportion between important and unimportant task
  • Show the connection between what he’s working on and the business priorities
  • Improve his productivity
  • … and do all of that with at most 5 minutes of tracking a day.

The interesting thing about randomness is that it might have a different effect on behaviour. If you can’t anticipate when you’re going to get polled and you’re honest about your responses when you do, would that help you focus on more important things so that you don’t catch yourself goofing off during the polling time?

What are good questions to ask during the sampling moment? Boz has:

  • What are you working on?
  • Who are you with?
  • How important is this?
  • How is this related to the business objectives?

These questions also helped Boz stay focused – immediate benefit.

Questions/ideas related to tracking:

Is the effect of uncertainty worth the added effort required to build a custom tracking solution (or buy one), or will fixed time intervals be acceptable? If fixed time intervals are okay, then off-the-shelf apps can be stitched together for this functionality.

Is there value in full randomness (ex: five reminders randomly set for one day, even if those reminders all come in the morning) or is it more about moment-to-moment randomness (ex: a reminder set randomly in each 2-hour period)?

In which circumstances would interrupt-driven methods like this be better than time tracking or time-and-motion-type studies? Boz shared that he never quite got the hang of time tracking, so it might be about enabling a different set of people to explore this class of experiments.

Does measuring time (either through sampling or through time-tracking) offer significant benefits over, say, tracking quantity of tasks completed in different categories (like Andy Schirmer does) when it comes to measuring alignment with priorities?

Hmm…

I might give it a try. I like my time-based analysis, though, so I may increase the granularity of my time-tracking (track at the task level whenever possible). I can then simulate work-sampling based on that data. I might also try fixed-interval sampling using KeepTrack on the Android, although I tend to skip interruptions.

Related:

2011-02-09 Wed 10:58

Tweaking fun and nudging myself out of procrastination

Using rational economics to analyze what I do for fun seems to have paid off. By changing the costs and benefits of different activities, I’ve managed to nudge myself out of (excessive?) reading and writing, finally tackling some projects I’ve been procrastinating for a while.

Increasing the cost of reading: I decided to be pickier about the books I read. Instead of skimming books looking for nuggets or interesting turns of phrase, I now check the table of contents, head straight for the chapters with the most promise, and evaluate whether or not to continue. This means I spend less time reading on autopilot. While I’d love to be enthused about Mortimer J. Adler’s collection of essays and references on the Great Books, it’s just lower-priority at the moment.

Increasing the cost of writing: Switching to a “draw first, then write” procedure is working well for me. Not every blog post is going to be illustrated, but it will be fun drawing more. I might also experiment with requiring myself to work on a non-writing, non-reading personal project (sewing, for example) before I can sit down to write a blog post. Or maybe walking, and even tying the length of time or the number of words I can write to the length of exercise or the number of steps (divided by a suitable number, of course). This probably means going back to evening pages, although exercise would go well with morning pages.

Decreasing the cost of drawing: Achieved by settling in for a good afternoon of drawing with pencils, index cards, and cats willing to provide creative breaks. Result: I drew the networking tips presentation I’ve been procrastinating. I’ve sent it off for review, and will post it when approved.

Decreasing the cost of sewing: Making the time to watch the instructional videos helped me learn how to use the serger, which meant being able to finish the pants I’ve been meaning to hem.

Next: Hmm, maybe I can apply the same process in order to become more social…

2011-01-25 Tue 20:45

Three tips for cheerful chores

I’ve been taking a closer look at household tasks that I could outsource or simplify. Groceries, laundry, cleaning, cooking…

… but really, they don’t take that much time, and I probably get more value from doing them than I would from a few extra hours of writing or work.

Here are three tips I’ve found that help me enjoy what I’m doing. Maybe you’ll find them useful, too!

Many hands make fun work. Turn the chore into an excuse to build a relationship. For example, W- and I love cooking. Our batch-cooking marathons are an excuse to break out the knives, chopping boards, and stacks of food containers, and we have great conversations while slicing and dicing. We also enjoy the walk to the supermarket (which often involves a side-trip to the library, and you know how I enjoy that). Folding laundry is a good time to watch a movie (borrowed from the aforementioned library), which leads to more shared experiences and in-jokes, which helps cultivate a relationship. Turn chores into social bonding time, and the time will fly.

Use the time to reflect and improve. Cooking is a great time to learn new recipes or improve my skills. Tidying up reminds me where things are and gives me an opportunity to simplify. Spend a little extra time making things better for the next time you do something.

Eliminate or delegate things that really sap your energy. Speaking of cats: scooping out four litter boxes was not fun. So W- did a bit of research and ordered a Litter Robot. The spaceship-like contraption now commands a corner of the living room (next to the toolchest, actually). It’s been worth it not just for convenience, but also for entertainment value. Our cat Luke loves to watch it, but when he steps on it for a closer look, the Litter Robot stops rotating. This confuses him and always makes me laugh.

We could cut back on savings and hire some of these tasks out – but we’d probably replace them with time spent taking long walks together, learning new skills, or improving the flow of life. Which is basically what we would’ve been paying someone else to handle, so we might as well do it ourselves.

What do you do to make chores cheerful?

2011-01-12 Wed 19:38

Momentum and holidays

Monday: I don’t do “relaxing holidays” very well. My idea of a perfect holiday is one where I’m all wrung out at the end and ready to go back to work. Building a chair. Bottling a gazillion jars of jam. Taking apart and rebuilding appliances. Hanging out with family and friends. (If you’ve met them, you know what a whirlwind they can be.)

This New Year’s holiday must have been the quietest holiday I’ve had in a while. It’s weird! I’m half-dreading the abrupt change in pace when I get back to work tomorrow, particularly as I’ve managed to commit myself to some rather high-intensity days coming up.

(Fortunately, the world works in mysterious ways. It could have been crazier, but it isn’t.)

It’s hard to write about anything other than being sick when you’re sick.

Actually, this is not true. I snuck in some work this afternoon and I made a lot of progress writing a developer’s guide for the system we’re building. It’s hard for me to write about life or productivity or connecting at conferences when my nose is stuffed, but I can talk about node access records and workflow transitions, no problem.

Maybe that’s what I should do next time I’m sick and feeling lethargic. Never mind the mid-day naps. A good round of coding or documenting is a great antidote for the doldrums.

Being sick is great for all sorts of realizations, actually. I have the free time to do whatever I want to do (within reason). I don’t have the energy or the inclination to do many things. Granted, a lot of that is because of the cold, but if I don’t get around to doing something even though I have an unencumbered day, what are the chances of my getting around to it with an extra half hour?

Here’s what I’m learning:

Writing and coding boost my energy, and are a great way to cheer myself up if I’m feeling unproductive.

Playing the piano is fun, too. I’m slowly getting back into it (compensating for the time I couldn’t speak?). I like the slow development of fluency. Plus, my playing nudges J-, and she ends up teaching herself a bit too. I’ve been teaching myself Schumann’s “Von fremden Ländern und Menschen” (the easy version from http://www.free-scores.com/download-sheet-music.php?pdf=8153) because of its appearance in McDull, but it’s also a pleasure re-encountering old friends like Für Elise.

Drawing and preparing for presentations are pretty low on my radar. I should think about how to tweak that. Fortunately, I’d written a number of blog posts from when I was presenting more, so I can remember what it’s like.

Sewing has a bit more of an activation cost than it could. When work settles down again, I’ll set aside some time to see if I can fix this.

Tomorrow is going to be a busy day. I still have a bit of a cough and some sniffles, and I’ll probably work from home, but my voice is back and I can focus on work. (More easily on work than on other things, even.)

Thinking about housework

I’ve been thinking about the ideas in the book “168 Hours”, which strongly recommends personal outsourcing as a way of freeing up time that you could spend on goals or core competencies.

On one hand, I agree with it: delegation can help a lot. On the other hand, there’s something here I need to explore further. I’m not sold on the idea that maximizing life is the way to go, or that this is the best fit for us.

It helps that I can compare the experiences. I grew up with maids and a cook. Laundry was whisked away, ironed and folded. There was a hot buffet at lunch in the company dining room, and dinner was sometimes business, sometimes family-style. My mom cooked a bit, and she taught us how to wash dishes.

In the Philippines, having household staff isn’t that big a deal, and it really helped my parents with their business. In Canada, W- and I do all the work of maintaining the house. It’s not that bad, actually. Fifteen minutes of exercise bringing the laundry down and sorting it; half an hour to fold the laundry, which is really social time + movie time; a good weekend afternoon’s work preparing a month of lunches and a week of dinners, also social time; half an hour of tidying up each day and more organization during the weekends, which is really a working meditation.

We could trim our “preparation time” further by ordering groceries and household goods online instead of heading out, I suppose, or hiring out laundry or cooking. I’ll try keeping a more detailed time diary to see if I can identify big chunks of time that I can recover.

What would I spend the extra time on? Writing and coding, probably. Spending more time with W-. Learning how to drive, draw, or play the piano. Sewing, so I can learn how to make things. Cooking. (Yes, I return to that; it’s fun.)

But it’s not a straightforward money-for-time swap. It’s not just a matter of paying ~$25/hour to reclaim time for personal use. It’s really a time-for-time swap, because money is time, too. I’d be trading time now for time later, considering after-tax expenses now versus the compounding growth of investments that might enable early retirement or more opportunities.

The things I’d want to do with that time – writing, for example – mature with age and experience. Squeezing out more discretionary time to work on writing might result in improvements, but a lot of it is really just a matter of living more and learning more so that I can share more.

Doing things ourselves isn’t drudgework, either. We can save, learn, exercise, and build our relationship, all at the same time. If I ever run into tasks I truly despise, I might outsource those, but W- and I are easy-going and have so far managed well. (In fact, cooking all that food leaves me with a warm glow of accomplishment and productivity, and I learn a lot along the way.) I don’t feel starved for time. I feel that there’s enough time to do the things I want to do – perhaps not all of them, but that teaches me to prioritize and be efficient.

And of course, there’s my resistance to lifestyle inflation. ;) The longer I can live a simple life, the more I can resist the hedonic treadmill and sock away savings I won’t even miss.

I might dust off my experiments with virtual assistance and try out cooking and cleaning services. Some frugal bloggers I read have said wonderful things about housekeeping. We might see if it’s a good fit.

Shifting time around to have more discretionary time would be nice, but am I close to the point of diminishing returns considering the other factors, or are there other things I might discover if I keep at the experiment? Hmm….

Have you experimented with this? What have you done with your newly-freed-up time? Or how have you made household work even more productive?

2010-12-31 Fri 08:26